Thailand’s contemporary youth democracy movement: An inside look

Photos by Photographer, Activist, and Friend Ayush Madan

Albertine Combs, Staff Writer

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  • Since August 2020, young Thai protesters have engaged in civil disturbance and political protest demanding political reform. Some as young as 10 are risking their lives to demand the resignation of the current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet, the reformation of the constitution, and the limitation of power of the monarchy.

  • Peaceful protestors block a busy intersection in hopes of capturing the government’s attention. “The government isn’t listening to us and is just doing as they please,” said Anonymous Thai-Dutch high school student activist. Young Thais are fighting for democracy. Thailand’s parliamentary system is a constitutional monarchy. Military juntas control the government, while the monarchy legitimizes their power, and entrenched business interests run the company. The order of society is not based on the accords of popular democracy. Conservative business interests are the caretakers of Thailand.

  • Some bystanders only watch, as these protests can bring great danger to one’s life if authorities decide to press and pursue charges. “You risk being blacklisted, fined, or even imprisoned. Many protest leaders have already been arrested on no real charge except for speaking their mind, an inalienable right in every country that dares call itself a democracy,” said Thai-Indian Anonymous Activist.

  • The recent disappearance of Wanchalerm Satsaksit served as a catalyst for recent protests. He was wanted by Thai authorities for lèse majesté according to a report in 2015. He was a pro-democracy activist who fled to Cambodia after the 2014 military coup in Thailand. He was also affiliated with the United Front Against Dictatorship, otherwise known as the “Red Shirts.” On June 4th, 2020 he forcibly disappeared. The graphic sign above translates to “you take that leader away because you want to shut our ears and eyes, please let our friend free.”

  • Thailand’s youth project the booming voice for change. Many of them attend some of the best schools in Thailand; they are the future leaders of Thailand. They march through Soi Sukhumvit, the American equivalent of protesting on Broadway in New York, with microphones, speakers, and large handmade signs as they call for reformation.

  • These protesters question who is best fit to take care of Thai society: the current non-elected parliament or the people with democratic ideals. It’s the fight between order and chaos; order is highly valued in Thai society and some see protests as chaos. It begs the question which one is truly needed for a successful future for Thailand.

  • A group of protesters taking a break from the main protest to text loved ones and to take a smoke break.

  • The protests, as seen from the skywalk, made its way onto the skywalk of the BTS (Bangkok’s skytrain transit system). Bangkok’s two main transit systems, the BTS and MRT, were shut down during these peaceful protests. “Tens of thousands of people attend, despite the government shutting down train stations and roads to try to discourage travel to these sites,” Anonymous Thai Activist explained.

  • Local high school students watch the protest unfold.

  • This sign, in the picture above, was made by students who wrote down their support for democracy. The bold red writing translates to “everyone must lead.”

  • Thai police watch the protests unable to intervene. These protests are the biggest in recent Southeast Asia history.

  • A protester surrounded by supporting listeners uses a microphone to share their anti-establishment views.

  • Thailand’s future is now in the hands of the government and the people. Though it is uncertain at times, Thailand’s youth hopes to replace a military junta they grew up with, with a democracy that listens to the people.

Message from the photographer: As a Thai citizen who loves his country and its people, being able to take these pictures brought me great pride. In an age of visual media, photographs are by far the most effective way to convey information with the most context possible.